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URI Awarded Nearly $19M to Expand Biomedical Research Capacity in R.I.

Neuroscience and cancer research added to statewide priorities: about $61 million awarded to URI since program began in 2001. Brown University, Rhode Island College, Providence College, Bryant University, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University and CCRI are partners in RI-INBRE program.

by University of Rhode Island
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Photo courtesy of the University of Rhode IslandKINGSTON, R.I.-- June 4, 2014 – A University of Rhode Island-based initiative that has successfully expanded biomedical research capacity at nearly all of Rhode Island’s universities and colleges has been awarded another $18.8 million in federal funding to expand the program over the next five years.

The Rhode Island IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (RI-INBRE), which has been funded by the National Institutes of Health since 2001 with $42 million in grants to URI as the lead institution, was initially established to expand the statewide research capacity in biomedical sciences. With this next phase of funding, the interrelated research areas of cancer, neuroscience and molecular toxicology will now be the focus of the program.

The University of Rhode Island partners with Brown University, Rhode Island College, Providence College, Bryant University, Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University in the RI-INBRE program. The Community College of Rhode Island is an affiliate of the network, and its students participate in research opportunities at URI.

Zahir Shaikh, professor of pharmacology and toxicology in URI’s College of Pharmacy, has been the principal investigator and program director of the project since its inception in 2001.

“Through this important funding from the NIH, the University of Rhode Island will continue to strengthen the ‘meds and eds’ in our state,” Governor Lincoln D. Chafee said. “I am pleased that the NIH continues to recognize the outstanding work of URI and I believe that we are well on our way to becoming a leader in the biomedical research field.”

“I offer my congratulations to everyone at the University of Rhode Island and all of our partners for establishing such a groundbreaking statewide network,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “This sustained commitment to collaboration among all the partners has resulted in $61 million in grants to build biomedical research activity and capacity across the state, and we are clearly seeing the success of their efforts. The NIH renewal of this transformational effort will continue to advance the health of our people while continuing to stimulate significant growth within a sector of our state's economy that holds tremendous potential for both scientific discoveries and job creation.”

Since 2001, the program has financially supported and mentored more than 100 faculty members at the network institutions. In addition, the program has established a $4 million research equipment facility at URI’s College of Pharmacy for Rhode Island’s biomedical researchers to carry out cutting-edge research. So far, RI-INBRE-supported researchers have obtained an additional $47 million in independent funding to further increase biomedical research capacity.

In addition, more than 1,000 students and postdoctoral fellows have gained research training in faculty laboratories since the program’s beginning. Shaikh said, “Students from this program have gone on to obtain post-graduate degrees and many are employed at universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical and engineering companies.”

"Enhancing research collaboration is exactly what my family envisioned when we established the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island,” said Thomas M. Ryan, a 1975 pharmacy graduate of the University and former chairman, president and CEO of CVS Caremark. “With this extraordinary new federal support, we can accelerate and expand the efforts of our faculty and student scientists. Lessening the economic, social and personal costs associated with neurodegenerative and other devastating diseases is critical -- and now it is within our reach. I congratulate the University and the partner institutions on this remarkable effort."

“The research made possible through this federal funding will help create new products, cures, and industries that can improve countless lives here in Rhode Island and beyond our shores, but it’s also a win for our local economy,” said Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Investments like this will help attract promising young scientists to Rhode Island and will ultimately lead to job creation and a more highly skilled workforce in the state,” added Reed. “This capacity building grant is a smart investment that will allow students and teachers to continue to make outsize contributions to life-changing research in biomedicine, further cementing URI and the State of Rhode Island as a place where students come to have a hand in the breakthroughs of tomorrow while training for the jobs of the future.”

“Congratulations to URI and all the talented researchers who have made this program so successful through the years,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “Rhode Island is home to some of the best minds in medical research, and providing them with additional resources is an investment for our state – one that will help grow our crucial health care industry and create jobs.”

“The University of Rhode Island is an incubator for some of our state’s greatest talent,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “As biomedical research continues to drive scientific and economic growth, I am thrilled that URI is investing in these innovative technologies and preparing the next generation of young professionals to support new and expanding businesses within the Ocean State.”

“Congratulations to the University of Rhode Island and their partners on this award of federal funds to expand Rhode Island’s biomedical research infrastructure and to support advancements in the way we treat and prevent disease,” said Congressman David Cicilline, a member of the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus. “Critical investments in biomedical research will not only help scientists discover new life-saving treatments to improve quality of life, but it will attract talented researchers to our state, create jobs, and grow our local economy. I am very pleased the National Institutes of Health continues to recognize the outstanding work being performed across our state.”

“We have changed the culture at our partner undergraduate institutions,” said Shaikh. “All of these institutions are now hiring new science faculty in such areas as biology, chemistry and psychology with biomedically-related research experiences in order to benefit from the RI-INBRE program. They have also augmented their research support staff to facilitate increased research activity by their faculty.”

Shaikh, and Program Coordinator David Rowley, URI professor of biomedical sciences at the College of Pharmacy, said the grant renewal allows the network to expand.

“We are now putting the focus on disease states, like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases,” Shaikh said.

Shaikh said the grant application pre-dates last November’s establishment of the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at URI through a $15 million gift from Tom and Cathy Ryan, but the Ryan Institute, combined with URI’s Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program and the focus of the grant renewal for the biomedical network, means Rhode Island can accelerate its already strong momentum in neurological research.

“Neuroscience and cancer are not just priorities for us at URI,” Rowley said. “They are research priorities for Rhode Island and the nation. This will continue to be a capacity building grant, and it will catalyze the growth and competitiveness of investigators.”